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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: April 3, 2010 NO. 14 APRIL 8, 2010
Surfing China's National Defense


MODERN DEFENSE: At the National Day Parade on October 1, 2009, to mark the People's Republic of China's 60th anniversary, a missile formation and a plane formation pass by the Tiananmen Square to be inspected (FEI MAOHUA) 

Following the start of its first test run on August 20, 2009, the website www.mod.gov.cn of the Ministry of National Defense (MOD) of the People's Republic of China has logged more than 2 billion hits, from many countries and regions including China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and Singapore. China National Defense News reporters recently interviewed Ji Guilin, the website's Editor in Chief, on its performance and the feedback of netizens.

The MOD's website has been in trial operation for more than half a year. Would you tell us about its performance?

Ji Guilin: The website www.mod.gov.cn has been running smoothly since its test run. More than 100 items of military news and authoritative information are published each day, and the site has received 2 billion hits in half a year. The speed of the website is quite fast. It takes a domestic visitor about three seconds to open a page and a foreign visitor five seconds to do so. Daily traffic reached a peak on August 21 of last year, when the Chinese version of the website received 130 million hits and the English version received more than 3.1 million hits.

With regard to the geographic distribution of the website's traffic, more than 40 percent of hits originating from the Chinese mainland are from Beijing, Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces. With regard to visits to the Chinese version of the website originating from overseas, many are from the United States, Australia, Singapore, Japan and Canada; while many visitors to the English version from overseas are from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Why was the website set up?

As China's comprehensive national strength and international status increase, military modernization accelerates and military diplomacy expands, overseas media are paying greater attention to China's military and writing a greater number of reports about it. In China, a large number of people are also interested in the military, and concerned about the armed forces and national defense. They are eager to learn about the latest military information and the newest weaponry and obtain other military knowledge.

The defense ministries of many countries have their own websites. How does the MOD's website differ from those of other countries? What are the distinctive features of yours?

In setting up the MOD's website, we performed extensive studies of the websites of defense ministries in major countries around the world. We learned that these websites primarily serve two functions: to release accurate information and to provide services to servicemen and their families. Although the websites of the defense ministries of different countries vary in size, page design and column setup, they generally feature the following contents: defense news, a brief introduction to the defense ministry, as well as information on the armed forces, national defense policy, publications, the lives of the servicemen and national defense acquisitions.

We performed an intensive study of the website of the United States Department of Defense (DoD). Defense.gov is the DoD's official website. Its mission is to provide official information on U.S. defense policy, as well as the DoD's organizational structure, function and combat operations. It serves U.S. troops, the DoD's civilian staff, the family members of servicemen, as well as the American public, lawmakers and media.

The websites of the MOD and the DoD primarily differ in two aspects. First, the DoD's website encourages netizens to participate in the website's construction. It has a "customer satisfaction survey" column to solicit suggestions for improvement. Secondly, the DoD's website is more interactive, featuring interactive areas such as forums and blogs.

To enable the MOD's website to better serve netizens, we drew inspiration from the DoD's website and added a "National Defense Service Hall" to the website's Chinese version, which covers topics such as enlistment, registration for the entrance examination to military academies, recruitment of officers and pilots, non-active civilian staff, non-active logistical personnel and the families of servicemen. These columns are popular with netizens.

The MOD's website has three main sections. The first one is news, including defense news, press briefings, the armed forces, national defense, military operations, military exchanges, defense education, defense science and technology, opinion, and arms control and disarmament. The second one is data and reports on military leadership (leaders of the Central Military Commission), military history, laws and regulations, as well as weapons and armament. The third one features military photos, videos, hot topics and the "National Defense Service Hall."

What topics do netizens care most about, in terms of the number of visits that topics receive?

Website statistics indicate that netizens visiting the website's Chinese version are interested in the following topics: military leadership, weapons and armament, military operations, defense news, and press briefings, while visitors to the website's English version are interested in military photos, military leadership, press briefings, weapons and armament, national defense laws and regulations, arms control and disarmament. The topics are arranged in order of the amount of hits received, from the highest to lowest number of hits.

Visitors to the Chinese version and the English version are all interested in military leadership and press briefings, while foreign netizens care more about weapons and armament and military photos.

What is the most significant feature of the MOD's website?

Its most significant feature is its authenticity. The leaders of the Central Military Commission require us to provide timely release of important information concerning the Central Military Commission and the General Headquarters of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and departments to the world. We must ensure that the information is published as soon as possible. At 1:31 a.m. on August 22, 2009, the MOD's website released its first exclusive news item since the website commenced its test run. This was an interview with the leaders of the relevant departments of the General Headquarters on the reform of national defense and the armed forces. After the information was released, dozens of websites quoted the news on their websites the following day, including the websites of the People's Daily, the Xinhua News Agency and the news portal Sina.com.cn. On August 23, comments from netizens began to come in after 9 a.m. and by 8 p.m. 935 comments had been posted on Sina.

At 9:27 p.m. on September 3, 2009, the MOD's website provided a timely posting of another exclusive news item. The news item was entitled "The PLA Sends Experts to Urumqi Today to Diagnose People Injured by Rioters With Needles." The news item played a positive role in dispelling rumors and stabilizing the situation in Xinjiang. Many netizens expect the MOD's website to publish more of these messages. These two news items attracted tens of millions of hits.

What new measures have been taken to ensure the authority of information?

To increase the amount of authoritative news, one important measure we have taken is to encourage all colleagues of the PLA Daily to make it a daily routine to provide authoritative news to the MOD's website. All departments or offices of the newspaper should designate a contact person who is specifically responsible for providing relevant information to the MOD's website, and coordinating information publication. Journalists will provide the MOD's website their articles on overseas visits by military leaders and meetings with foreign military delegations, as well as Sino-foreign joint military exercises.

The MOD's website has the exclusive right to broadcast live press conferences hosted by the MOD. The website can publish the full text of the speeches made by the MOD's spokespersons. The MOD shall take the lead in publishing enlistment orders and award or prize announcements issued under the MOD's name. The MOD website can provide more information on major peacetime military operations and major reports than the PLA Daily. For a particular item of news, the MOD website is permitted to publish a photo if the PLA Daily has not. If the PLA Daily has only made a short report, the website can publish a longer one, and if the PLA Daily has not provided a background explanation of news, the website can add a link to background information.

What suggestions do netizens put forward for the MOD's website?

A netizen from Guangdong has suggested "improving the platform for serving both soldiers and the people, through such practices as providing information on military academies' enrollment and admission."

A netizen in Shandong Province said that the website should "provide more military knowledge, such as the MOD's primary responsibilities, organizational structure and overseas officers and military officers," and "more basic information on the armed forces, such as the services of the armed forces and their flags, anthems, uniforms, ranks, vehicles, honor guards of the army, air force and navy and the national flag escorting guards."

A netizen from Heilongjiang Province said that "the MOD's website should be linked to the websites of relevant military organizations, such as the PLA University of National Defense, the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, military academies, directly affiliated hospitals and military enterprises."

Chinese websites are frequently targeted by domestic and foreign hackers, and China is one of the largest victim-nations of these kinds of attacks. How many times has the MOD's website been attacked in the half year since it commenced its test run?

Hacking is rampant in today's Internet. The websites of defense ministries are the main targets of hackers, and their security has become a vexing problem for the governments and militaries of countries around the world.

It is known that in recent years, the websites of the defense ministries of foreign countries have suffered primarily from two types of attack. The first type is intrusion attacks. Hackers break into a website, decipher system passwords, steal internal information, alter Web pages and data, and manipulate the website or destroy it from a remote location. The second type is flooding attacks. Through computers infected with Trojan horses via the Internet, hackers generate a flood of bogus traffic to jam a website. The second type of attack is hard to detect initially, and is difficult to overcome when the attacks are large scale. This is a worldwide problem.

The website of the U.S. DoD is the most frequently attacked website, and is bombarded by millions of attacks daily. In 2007, due to an attack to its website, the DoD cut off Internet connections to more than 1,500 computers.

The website of South Korea's Ministry of Defense was hacked many times in July 2009, and the website was rendered inaccessible for a long time. The website of the Ministry of Defense of India was also hacked many times, and its Web pages were altered.

From the first day of its trial operation, the MOD's website has suffered from a large number of continuous, daily attacks. In the first month it suffered more than 2.3 million attacks, including both intrusion and flooding attacks, although the former attacks were more numerous. The attacks were most frequent during the first week.

Under what circumstances do the attacks usually take place?

Attacks upon the MOD's website tend to increase when significant occasions or events occur, especially important events related to the armed forces or national defense. These attacks all failed due to the website's tight internet security, and information was released unaffected. We continuously reinforce the website's security with reference to results from technical monitoring during test runs. We have adopted various technical measures to optimize the website's security system, including measures to detect and diagnose system intrusion and prevent web page alteration, swarm attacks and viruses; measures to trigger security alarms and to make multiple backup copies of data. According to feedback from netizens, we have further optimized the Web pages' technical parameters and the Web accelerator, and halved the time required to open a web page.

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